Sports Illustrated: Orlando Magic’s pity has run out

Dec 14, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) looks on against the LA Clippers during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 14, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) looks on against the LA Clippers during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

It is easy to feel bad for the Orlando Magic for not having the Lottery luck to build a championship team. But nothing could excuse the failures this season

The Orlando Magic’s season, by almost every measure, was a failure.

The team came into the year with great expectations to make the Playoffs. Orlando invested a lot in the offseason to remake the roster and add some veteran talent to bolster the young players already present.

After four years out of the Playoffs, the Magic clearly felt it was time to take that final step forward and get back into the Playoff rat race. The team hoped its defense would lead the way with Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo anchoring an interior defense that would be impenetrable and coach Frank Vogel using his defensive bona fides to create a scheme that would take advantage of both.

The totality of this failure cannot be overstated.

The Magic ended up in the bottom 10 in defensive rating and last in net rating. The team never truly found its rhythm defensively after coming fast out of the game in the first quarter of the season. There were long stretches where the Magic were the worst defense in the league.

All the gambles the team took fell flat. Whether it was the defense, Serge Ibaka’s mobility, Bismack Biyombo playing a larger role, Mario Hezonja taking the next step in his career, Aaron Gordon playing small forward or relying more heavily on veterans to anchor the bench, it did not seem like anything for the Magic worked well.

That made the next decision easy. The Magic, seemingly at the end of the road in the rebuild having pushed their chips all in, moved on from general manager Rob Hennigan.

The season, as was pretty evident, was a failure.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated rightly gave the Magic an ‘F’ for their season. It is hard to argue that is not the correct grade considering the Magic’s expectations and where they are now. The team clearly has to shift direction and create something positive this season.

The worst thing any franchise can be is hopeless. And without a star, it is hard to find that hope.

As even Magic CEO Alex Martins noted, Hennigan did not have the luck he needed in the Lottery. And that leads to a certain amount of pity.

The Magic played everything right, getting three top five picks. But they never got the pick they needed to draft the star they needed. to anchor their rebuilding plan. Things just did not work out.

But Martins was right too, a team and a management group have to make their own luck.

The self-inflicted wounds became too much. And the Magic were no longer a sob story, but more of a sorry team. That, as much as anything, warrants the failing grade.

"At some point, right around the time that GM Rob Hennigan cut his losses and traded Serge Ibaka mere months after acquiring him, pity kicked in. Not all plans work. The defense never gelled under new coach Frank Vogel. The offense was, more predictably, a mess. A lengthy list of lottery picks had never quite panned out. It’s no fun being a small-market team without a signature star trying to keep up with the Joneses. Struggles happen.But then the Magic made the ultimate rookie mistake, allowing some portion of their offseason plans, written on a whiteboard, to leak out via social media. At the end of a cripplingly disappointing season, this was the equivalent of blasting off their own feet with a bazooka. Pity naturally dries up in such an unusual situation. As painful as it will surely be, it’s time for the Magic to start repairing the damage by moving forward with a new front office. No ownership group should tell its fan base that it’s willing to settle for life as a laughingstock."

Orlando did become a laughingstock. Even if the whiteboard incident happened after the team’s decision to release Hennigan became apparent, it was not a good look for a franchise that has struggled to find footing for half a decade now.

And embarrassment like that is something that is tough to sell to a starved fan base.

Orlando is in a tough spot as a relatively small market. It is tough to get free agents to the city despite its apparent advantages. But the task was made harder with the poor Lottery luck and the inability to make the rookies the team wanted to build around work properly.

Next: OMD Podcast: The end of the process

It was a season to forget in Orlando. And the franchise already took its big step to hold someone publicly accountable and move on.